By Chris Zuver, A&E Editor
November 18 was a special day for University of Missouri-St. Louis alumnus Katryn Dierksen. It was her first show as the curator of Duet in St. Louis.
“The whole month before the show was nerve-wracking,” said Dierksen. “I was required to fill an empty white-washed room with Art. That’s definitely an intimidating task.”
I walked into the gallery with an open mind, having only heard the names of the artists: Gecko the Mad Scientist and Chloe Simmons.
“What calmed me down ultimately was my faith in the artists,” said Dierksen. “Of course, it’s always uncomfortable standing around, waiting before the doors open.”
Dierksen was not let down. By the time I showed up, the room was filled with music and the conversation of not only friends of the artists and host, but newcomers as well.
Gecko, an eccentric personality, discussed with me his series of paintings which hung around the entire inner perimeter of the building. Each acrylic work was a psychedelic variant perspective of the St. Louis skyline whilst crossing the Poplar St. Bridge. He described them as part of a series involving the concept of returning to St. Louis after altering your mind in the eastside strip clubs.
There was also a plethora of letter-sized prints of the city’s skyline during various phases of the day that Gecko discussed with me, mentioning that they had been made into a stop-action film.
Chloe Simmons was no less enthusiastic about her work, which involved knitted webs which hung from the ceilings, covered in paper pulp. She was highly social and her crowd proved hard to break through for a conversation.
“I don’t really know where I got the idea,” she said. “I’ve been making knitted work for some time now, very similar in form to what you saw in the gallery. Covering my paper pulp is new to my process. I was learning to make paper and I wanted to come up with a good way to incorporate it in my knitting so I thought of applying the paper directly to the knit.”
“I’m not entirely sure what inspires me. I just enjoy making things and constantly building on, and revising past work. I’m always trying to figure out the next direction for my work. And most importantly, I do what feels right.”
This past August, a previous assistant at Duet, Eve Maret, came into town from Nashville to perform with a band and asked a friend of Dierksen to bring some local zines and poets to the live music event she was hosting in Duet.
“My friend asked me to bring my zine, Bad Jacket, to the gallery for the night,” said Dierksen. “I read some of my poetry with two other Bad Jacket poets, and during a musical performance, I chatted with the director of the gallery, Daniel McGrath. I had been let go from a food service job a week prior, and I suppose I had stuck it in my head that Oprah was fired before she got her first gig as a talk show host. After talking to Daniel about Bad Jackett and Duet, I asked him if he needed any help in the gallery. He asked me if I had any experience curating an exhibition, and I told him about the DIY Bad Jacket Gallery Exhibition composed of the visual artists printed in the magazine. He then invited me to come along to help him set up Duet’s exhibition at Satellite Art Show in Miami Beach that takes place as part of the greater Miami Art Fair, which includes Art Basel. Better yet, he hired me on to come along! Since then, I have been assisting generally with the gallery’s work.”
Dierksen has had an interest in art through one form or another for most of her life. She said, “I’ve been sketching feverishly since I was twelve years old. It started as an obsession with movies. I wanted to capture beauty. The last art class I took was in high school. I had gotten into oil painting and then put it down during college because of the limited space in my dorm room—and limited time, of course. I became an editor of Brain Stew, by begging faculty advisor, Dan Gerth, to allow me to have the position. He forced me to create the cover art for the magazine for two years because the two other editors were already charged with writing editorials.”
Dierksen had a lot to say about her magazine, Bad Jacket: “It was founded in October 2015, while I was editing for both Brain Stew and Bellerive. Somehow my co-editors from those two staffs and I decided we should start our own magazine in order to print a poem that we felt was unjustly vetoed. We invited all of the poets we knew to submit to it without telling them that it was our own projects. Soon, lots of people were involved, though most of them discovered Ben Luczak and myself as culprits in the Bad Jacket business. We released two issues per year and this year got up to three issues in one year, and next year we plan to do six, effectively making us bi-monthly.”
Dierksen continued, “We evolved from a poetry-only publication to a burgeoning menagerie of St. Louis art and literature by the fourth issue. We’ve featured some collages, manifestos, screenplays, paintings, photographs, poems, stories, reviews, comics, interviews, and scholarly essays.”
She had nothing but positivity when discussing the St. Louis artist scene. She said, “In school I always felt very much in competition with my creative peers, but St. Louis over all is a place for collaborators. As soon as I came out to open mic events with poetry or with a guitar and some songs people were extremely encouraging, no matter how badly I butchered my performance. People are genuinely excited to see new faces out. This is partially because once you’re out and involved you start seeing a lot of the same faces. It’s comfortable in some ways and contentious in other ways. On the whole, St. Louis artists are friendly and forgiving. I have found an excellent handful of writers, musicians, and artists who invite me to create with them more than I have hours in a day. A success for one artist in the scene always feels like a success for everyone, and that’s a great environment.”
By the end of the night, it was clear that the show had been a success. Many, including myself, left the show feeling inspired by what makes creativity great and attractive.
Dierksen left me with these words, on what it takes for others to do what she does: “Don’t discount what you’re doing now. My inhibitions and self-doubt crises were almost always induced by my uncertainty for the future and what I wanted to become. I’ve personally always had strong interests in a lot of creative fields and topics and would get myself mentally torn up over the not being able to do everything at once and not knowing what I really was. I would get frustrated after achieving and getting into positions that weren’t clearly connected to my vision of what I wanted in life. Some of the best advice I ever received on the topic was, ‘The more attention you pay to something, the more you come to appreciate it.’”
She continued, “When I can get myself to slow down and pay attention and stop glossing over things while scrambling about in anxiety—that’s when I find things most inspirational. A year ago I did an intensive management training program which involved eight weeks of territory management (i.e. door-to-door sales). I knew I didn’t want to be a multimillion-dollar consultant for this marketing company, but I took notes and applied myself and ultimately decided to use my experience pitching cable and internet packages to better promote Bad Jacket. But I had to step back from art and literature in my daily life in order to come out with that knowledge.”